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HIGHLANDS HIGHLIGHTS: Think Globally, Act Locally

NJ HILLS MEDIA // July 28, 2023

Based on available statistics, every day on average you will drink about eight cups of water, consume between 2,000-2,500 calories, and inhale and exhale about 2,000 gallons of air. It’s so easy for us to get lost in our daily routines that we forget our very existence depends on being able to drink clean water, breathe in nontoxic air, and eat healthy and plentiful food. We assume that our loved ones can do the same. We trust that tomorrow, in 10 years, and in 100 years, those things will still be true. Whether it’s buying a new house, deciding to have a child, or making new friends and building community with your neighbors, we build our lives on the foundation that things will be okay. But, if things continue on the current trajectory, that belief is not based in reality.

The continuing Canadian wildfires demonstrate that the world is literally and metaphorically burning. Legislative pillars that have kept our water clean and our air nontoxic are being systematically dismantled. Mass pesticide usage and habitat loss are decimating our pollinators and making our food system unstable. CO2 emissions continue to rise while forests (one of our best carbon sinks) are being destroyed, at home and around the world. Our oceans — the last true frontier — are in trouble too. They are being unsustainably overfished; they are heating due to “human-induced global warming;” and they are becoming more acidic due to the enormous amounts of CO2 they are absorbing, which is decimating coral and fish populations. Cataclysmic climate events such as 1,000-year droughts and floods are becoming commonplace.

Every day there are articles about natural disasters all over the world that disproportionately impact vulnerable countries and populations. Most of us in the United States have been insulated from the worst of the climate crisis so far. And because it has not impacted our routines, standards of living, privileges, and creature comforts, it is easy to ignore the urgency of the situation. Sooner or later, though, we will all be impacted.

Knowing how to meaningfully address the climate crisis can feel overwhelming, and that’s why I encourage each of you to get involved at the local level. Most of us don’t have connections in Washington, DC, or at the UN to push for sweeping change, but each of us has power that we may or may not realize or utilize. Getting involved at a local level really does make a difference.

During the height of the Covid Pandemic, I was asked to join my local Environmental Commission. I met and befriended more people in my town in the next year and a half than I had in the 26 years prior. As a Commission, we have been able to start a community garden; to lead weekly hikes for community members; to coordinate clean-ups; to advocate for stronger ordinances to protect our trees; and to provide resources for composting and other sustainability initiatives. And there is much more to do!
Actions such as joining the local Green Team; donating to a local environmental nonprofit; attending board, commission, and mayor and council meetings; and reaching out to neighbors in solidarity, will help to shape the reality that we leave for future generations.

As the preeminent advocacy organization specifically dedicated to protecting and preserving environmental and cultural resources of the New Jersey section of the US Highland Region, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition sees firsthand how impactful community involvement is.

Throughout New Jersey, warehouse development proposals are threatening the environmental integrity, agricultural livelihoods, and culture of small towns. Community groups have organized and fundraised to hire their own legal representation. They are attending zoning and planning board meetings. And they are raising awareness with their neighbors. These actions are delaying proceedings, and many are preventing these projects from proceeding at all. The Coalition is proud to support many of these groups through advice, connections, and Small Grants.

Forestry projects on public and private land are threatening our most ecologically important forests for climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection. Community efforts have been crucial to uplifting our campaign to bring ecological restoration to the attention of NJ State Legislators during the NJ Forest Forum and the NJ Forest Task Force. (Forest resources can be found on our website at https://njhighlandscoalition.org/new-jersey-forestry/.)

Environmental catastrophes like the Ford Superfund site in Ringwood are still impacting the residents who relied upon clean ground water and the land for food. We recognize that it is only through collective action and stalwart partnership that justice can be achieved to atone for historic and present oppressions and wrongs.

At this time of mass cultural instability and inequality, divisions within our society are being exacerbated on a national and local level. It is more important than ever that we realize how intrinsically we are all linked together. Despite all of our political, cultural, and other differences, we breathe the same air (toxic or non-toxic) and we depend on the same water (clean or polluted). Let’s take good care of it.

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